The NFL’s legal tampering window opened earlier today but already saw the New England Patriots lose their two biggest unrestricted free agents: after reports broke that starting left tackle Trent Brown will sign a four-year, $66 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, defensive standout Trey Flowers will now reportedly join the Detroit Lions on a five-year deal worth around $16-17 million per year.
Let’s find out what losing the 25-year-old means for the Patriots.
New England loses its best front-seven defender
There is no denying it: losing Trey Flowers is a big blow to the Patriots defense. The former fourth-round draft pick has been a standout since getting integrated into the club’s edge rotation during the 2016 season and never looked back. In 2018, he led New England in every major pass rushing category — Flowers registered 9.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits and 38 additional hurries — and also was a standout against the rush. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who actively avoided running at him during the two teams’ week 15 meeting.
The defensive edge depth will get tested
With Flowers gone, the Patriots’ defensive edge group will have to step up to fill a sizable void. As things stand right now, we are talking about the following players:
Deatrich Wise Jr.
Trading for Michael Bennett certainly adds quality to the group but in reality it only has three established options, and with the exception of the ex-Philadelphia Eagle none comes close to Flowers in terms of overall quality: Deatrich Wise Jr. and Adrian Clayborn have both looked good as rotational defenders since joining New England in 2017 and 2018, respectively, but been far more inconsistent than the now-Detroit Lion.
The wild card of the group is Derek Rivers. The former third-round draft pick has hardly seen the field over his first two seasons in the NFL — he missed all of 2017 due to a torn ACL and played only 78 defensive snaps last year — but has the size and athletic upside to carve out a role. Counting on him to do that would be a risk, however, so expect New England to add more depth to the group over the next few days and possible via the draft as well.
The Patriots’ salary cap will be invested elsewhere
New England currently sits at $16.52 million in salary cap space. With Flowers now not taking up a big chunk of it, the club will be free to invest the money elsewhere — possibly in another edge defender, likely in some more wide receivers or interior defensive linemen. Either way, the team is now more flexible in its approach without a big-money resigning limited the financial resources available. Is it ideal, especially because it means that Flowers has moved on? Of course not, but the Patriots will somehow still be able to make the best of it.
Another high compensatory pick is coming the world champions’ way
As will be the case with the Trent Brown departure, Trey Flowers will also net the Patriots a high compensatory draft pick. And when based on the initial reports of his contract’s per-season value, New England can expect to receive another third-round draft pick coming its way. This means that the club will get two additional early-round picks in back-to-back seasons — showing just how much quality left the team over the course of the last year.